Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 6 Hansard (22 June) . . Page.. 2439..
Gungahlin Drive extension
MRS DUNNE (1.16): I rise in this adjournment debate to ask why the Stanhope government has not sought security for costs in the current Gungahlin Drive litigation. Litigation is meant to be fair and it should be fair to both sides. The Save the Ridge organisation is legally entitled to ask the courts to preserve the status quo by injunction while the legal validity of any action is tested. But, equally, the government is answerable for the spending of public moneys and the defence of public interests as laid down in the laws and regulations passed by this Assembly.
Save the Ridge is an incorporated body which means that, although it can make undertakings that it will pay costs, there is no way, without some form of security, that those costs can be recovered if the need arises. The general taxpayer is therefore entitled to ask that, if the courts decide that the works of Gungahlin Drive extension are lawful, then the public interest demands that the taxpayer not be out of pocket for all the costs caused by the delay due to injunctions.
What steps has the government taken to ensure that there is security for all costs incurred by the taxpayer in this litigation? Is the Save the Ridge organisation solvent and able to pay the wasted costs caused by this delay? Has money been paid into the court to guarantee the costs, and therefore not borne by the taxpayer, if Save the Ridge is unsuccessful? Has anything other than undertakings been sought from the Save the Ridge organisation's solicitors as to costs?
It is of some concern to me that it appears that no action has been taken to ensure costs are protected. I ask the question: why should the taxpayer be expected to wear all the costs, no matter what? People are entitled to approach the courts on the basis that they can cause costs to their opponent. People are not entitled to approach the courts on the basis that they can cause costs to their opponents without being answerable for costs themselves. Save the Ridge should not be able to run up costs that it may never be able to meet.
We have heard in estimates that the government cannot meet all the demands upon it for legal aid in serious personal litigation, yet funds are being frittered away here on, I would submit, frivolous matters before the court. If the government would not willingly grant legal aid to an organisation like Save the Ridge, it should not be doing so indirectly by not ensuring that legal costs are met. It is the responsibility of this government not to indirectly subsidise Save the Ridge at the expense of the ACT taxpayer.
Mrs Celia Harsdorf
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs) (1.19): Just before we close for the day, I would like very much to join in the expression of condolence which you made in relation to the death of Celia Harsdorf. I knew Celia quite well and was always touched and affected by her courtesy and her professionalism. She was always absolutely polite. She was a person with very obvious humanity. She was essentially just a most lovely person. I always enjoyed her company and the quiet conversations I had with her during the time that I knew her here in the Assembly.